Exceptional Children

By Horowitz, Sheldon H. | Children's Voice, March/April 2006 | Go to article overview

Exceptional Children


Horowitz, Sheldon H., Children's Voice


Navigating Learning Disabilities and Special Education

Effective Communication Is the Best Medicine

Medical professionals can help ensure school success for children with learning disabilities.

Creating safe, stable, and nurturing opportunities for children to learn is a gargantuan task, and the list of potential-and in some cases, essential-ingredients that contribute to children's educational well-being is virtually endless. Attending to these needs can be especially challenging for children in foster care. Medical professionals should be recruited as active partners in ensuring that learning and behavioral needs are addressed at home and in the school community.

Why Doctors?

Society views members of the medical community with great respect, and schools have long depended on physicians to ensure the health and safety of children throughout the school year. Nevertheless, a sort of tension exists between the educational and medical communities, perhaps because of their perceived separateness and the different types of authority bestowed on their respective members.

Think about the child who is "having trouble paying attention in class." At a certain point-hopefully after first providing explicit and carefully documented remedial instruction-teachers and school support personnel may turn to special education to design an effective instructional program for the child. At the same time, the child might be viewed as a candidate for medical evaluation, with careful attention to whether ADHD or other medical concerns are contributing to poor school performance.

Armed with good information, and working in partnership, educators and doctors can be extraordinarily powerful in advocating for and delivering effective services to children with learning disabilities (LD) and related disorders of learning and behavior.

What All Children Need

Here are some of the essential ingredients that contribute to a child's well-being. Although the context here is educational, they certainly apply to a child's family and community life as well. These issues should be discussed with medical providers, and their comments and recommendations should be included in reports and conversation with adult care providers and school personnel.

Children need

* school environments that allow them to feel safe and free to ask questions and seek advice;

* classrooms where they have opportunities for explicit and well-targeted instruction, practice and corrective feedback, and the assurance that honest effort will reap rewards;

* a sense of belonging and inclusiveness, even when they are pulled out of the general education classroom for remedial or special educational services;

* adults (parents, medical professionals, and educators, administrators, and related services providers) who are committed to establishing and maintaining direct and ongoing communication;

* help coping with transitions-both expected and unexpected-and, to the extent possible, opportunities to participate in the decision-making process so they learn how to be flexible and effective self-advocates;

* positive role models-adults and peers-in school, at home, and in the community;

* coordination of educational and medical care, where all members of the treatment team have easy access to meaningful information (written in ways that everyone can understand); and

* an accurate, meaningful record (more than just copies of report cards and lists of standardized scores) of school progress, perhaps including work samples, photos, and annotated notes about what teaching and learning strategies seemed to have worked best over time, and even which teachers were most effective, and why.

Action Items for the Treatment Team

Here are ways to join with medical providers and ensure learning success for children with learning disabilities:1

Help dispel the stubborn mythology that surrounds specific learning disabilities. …

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